Air Echelon Overseas Movement
Like the Ground echelon, the air echelon left for its staging area from their respective satellite bases about the 12th of October, 1943. The first squadron to leave was the 703rd from Sioux City, Iowa, followed by the 700th, 701st, and 702nd squadrons. There was an interval of one day between each squadron. All flights were made in formation to the Lincoln Army Air Base, Lincoln, Nebraska. Upon landing, the pilot of each ship was met by an officer of the 12th Processing Center who gave instructions to the crews. With the necessary personal effects, the crews and their four passengers boarded waiting trucks to be taken to headquarters to register and be assigned to quarters.
Processing started at eight o'clock the following morning with a brief orientation talk on the schedule to be followed. Clothing was checked and new issues were made to the crews. However, crews and passengers both received the newest type parachute (jungle type). This processing was very systematic and rapid. Classes were held on "ditching" and chemical warfare. Special classes were also held for the radio operators, engineers, pilots, bombardiers, and navigators as well as for armorer gunners. It took each crew about three days to complete the schedule, lasting from 0800 until 1130 each day. In the meantime, each airplane was also being processed. Modifications were being made and the latest type equipment installed. Nose turrets were installed in all our B-24's.
Passes were in effect during this time. Upon the completion of processing and modification, the crews were briefed on the route and from then on were restricted to the base. Average time of stay per each flight was approximately six days. Take off was set for the day following the route briefing. Passengers and crews were issued arms and ammunition prior to take off. Average take off time was approximately 0830.
Leaving Lincoln, our next stop was Morrison Field, Miami Beach, Florida. Our course led us over St. Louis, Missouri and Atlanta, Georgia. Navigators were to give E.T.A.'s to those Army Air Fields and keep in constant touch with Topeka, Kansas station at all times. St. Louis and Atlanta stations were more-or-less auxiliary fields when contact could not be made due to the 'skip distance' around Topeka.
Landings were made at Morrison Field at about 1900, the average for each ship. The most noticeable change was the weather. There was snow on the ground in Lincoln, while it was warm and balmy in Florida. The flight, lasting for a period of 8 hours, made the seasonal change most impressive upon arrival at Morrison Field. Light tropical rains greeted most all the planes upon landings. Trucks were waiting to transport the arrivals to headquarters for registering both officers and enlisted men. Pay books were checked and kept by the office. They were later returned and included in the pilot's folio. Assignment of quarters were also made there. This procedure was also a smooth and fast operation. The next morning, we reported to headquarters for a physical examination and the last bits of business were cleaned up there. Crews were buying supplies, candy and some cosmetics with the idea of some English girl in mind. Two classes were held during the morning; one for the radio operators and one for the navigators. Although crews were free to come and go, no one was allowed off the field and restriction became effective. Briefing was held early the next morning and was attended by the radio operators, navigators, pilots and co-pilots only. Take off was set for 0800, but many ships did not take off until about 0900.
Next stop was Borenquin Field, Puerto Rico. The reception there was about the same as that of the previous fields. Ground crews were alert and the planes were serviced before the arrivals boarded the trucks that would transport them to the registering office. Two men from each ship were always left behind for guard duty. Minor repairs were made when necessary. Restriction was enforced as far as the transit crews were concerned. Besides, fatigue weighed down any desire of any one man to go visiting in the nearby town. Special briefings were held for pilots, navigators and radio operators the evening before departing for the next leg of the flight. The average stay at Borenquin Field for each ship was one day.
Take off time was 0830 the following day for Waller Field, Trinidad. Instructions were to keep in contact the departed station for half the leg, then contact the next station which was Belem, Brazil. Two auxiliary air fields were en route, to be used in case of emergency. Some ships made use of one of these fields at Amapa, Brazil. The personnel at these fields consisted of about 250 natives and about 50 U.S. soldiers and 2 officers. The natives at Amapa Field were used as laborers. The field was still under construction. Facilities at this field were very crude and primitive.
Landing at Belem, Brazil was at night fall, approximately 1830. Here, too, service for the transients was efficient. Pilots, navigators and radio operators were briefed upon arrival on their next leg. No time was spent at this field as take off time was set for the next morning at 0800.
From Belem the next stop was Natal, Brazil. There again the airdrome service was excellent and the first pass for the transients was authorized, in the form of conducted tours throughout the lovely city of Natal. The tour was sponsored by the Provost Marshall's office with a warning to change all our American currency to Brazilian notes. The reason for this was to keep the Nazi operators from securing American money and preventing them from operating in our country. It was evident to see the enemy operators selling their wares thru native youngsters. The little peddlers would ask for and try to get American money for their watches, daggers, boots, jewelry and other such items that would interest the transients. Many of these items were bought by the traveling crews. They included silk ladies hose, but all were paid for with Brazilian money. The men really stocked up on these items with the thought of eventually bargaining with the English girls. There was also a series of trucks leaving the base every hour for the beaches. Everyone took advantage of this since bathing facilities were becoming more and more crude. It was also an opportunity to get a first hand glance of the ocean to be crossed. The take off from Natal was set for 2400. Crews for this leg of the trip were briefed 2 hours before the take off.
From Natal, Brazil to Dakar, Senegal, South Africa the night trip proved to most of the crews uneventful. Landing was made at Dakar in the early morning. Here for the first time crews were impressed with the importance of the prevention of malaria. Before the crew and passengers were allowed off the ships, the planes were sprayed with insecticide internally. No member of the ship was allowed out for a period of ten minutes. Then, after reporting formalities had been attended to, the big moment and thought in everyone's mind was to get to town. Passes were issued, and men were allowed to go to town in any uniform they might be wearing. This was noted with interest because it was the first time that it had happened to any of the transients. Fast excursions to the city of Dakar were made. Bars and wine shops were the heaviest hit. The Alhambra theater, where nude prostitutes displayed their skills and particular brand of art upon the stage, was the next most popular spot in Dakar.
However, not all of the boys were present at either of these places. A few of them did try to buy gifts for the home folks, and to see as much of the town as possible. The evenings were rather cool there, but nevertheless MP's were on the job, enforcing sanitary regulations; collars were to be buttoned, canvas leggings were to be worn, and caps were also on the must list. All of these measures were for the prevention of malaria. A day's stay in Dakar was about the average for each plane.
The next leg, from Dakar to Marrakech, French Morocco, was a day's trip with the average take off time being about 0730. Like all other stations before, the pilots, navigators and radio operators were briefed on that particular leg. This leg was comparable to the trip over the ocean due to the endless sea of sand. Nothing could be seen for miles around. Striking was the color of the sand to the fliers, who seemed to think it should have been white instead of a darkish brown. The weather was clear, with the sun shining thru a few scattered clouds. Although this trip seemed dull, it really wasn't as everyone was 'sweating out' the pass. The course was to take the planes directly through the pass or break in the mountains. To miss it would have been tragic. A Sigh of relief was heaved by all when this was successfully passed, because Marrakech was just beyond. All the planes of this group got through to this point with success. Landing at Marrakech was about 1700.
Malaria prevention procedures were also taken here after which trucks were boarded and crews taken to operations for registering and reporting. The enlisted men slept in tents and the officers were housed in apartments. Passes were also freely given on this stop and the transients again enjoyed the privilege of going into town without being dressed like parade ground soldiers. Here the transits enjoyed tours thru the city of Marrakech. The city's modernistic design surprised many of the visitors as ancient caravans of donkeys and camels paraded through the 20th century streets. Vivid with color and atmosphere, the contrasting custom divided between the French and Arabs presented a strange picture to the eyes. Visits were made to the old slave markets, the modenia city, or the Arab city within the city, was off limits. Here many of the transits were allowed to visit at least the gates of the city, where the G.I. house of prostitution was being operated. The girls were daily inspected by the medical department of the field. This establishment was only open to the American soldiers. The procedure in entering was to sign a book with name, rank and serial number, obtain a check with a number on it and enter the inner sanctuaries. Rules governing the house were to take a prophylaxis on the way out, regardless of whether or not the patrons engaged any of the ladies. French, Jewess, and Arabians were the dominating hostesses. At this stage of the journey, the boys profited on their foresightedness. Rouge, lipstick and chewing gum were items for bartering. Another unpopular sight was to see the Arabs standing outside the mess halls with tin cans, begging for the food that the men were going to dispose of. In it, coffee was mixed with potatoes and gravies with puddings. The beggars would eat this while waiting for more.
Take off from Marrakech was at 2330, immediately after the briefings for the radio operators, navigators and pilots. Crews at this point were issued ammunition for their next leg. From Marrakech to Newquay, England, the crews were on the alert, keeping on the lookout for probable attacks by enemy planes operating from France and presumably the Spanish coast. Gunners remained at their stations during the entire night trip. Occasionally a falling star would stir excited conversation over the interphones, only to prove later to be just a friendly star. This was the first real experience of the crews flying towards combat. The coast of England became visible in the dawn's early light and most all of the crews were greeted by the proverbial foggy conditions that are characteristic of that country. Landing at Newquay was approximately 0930. A quick physical check was made there and all foreign currency was exchanged for English Pounds. The American Red Cross was on hand to offer hot coffee and doughnuts to the arrivals. Take off from here depended very much on the weather. Some planes waited as much as four days before taking off for their last stop. Many would take off on the same day. Newquay also served as a rendezvous point, for the gathering ships would wait for fair weather and then take off. So the colorful and eventful trip across half the world ended and about the 1st week in December the last of the 445th Group arrived at their permanent home in England - Tibenham, Norfolk County.